No Magic Bullet

By Jim McVeagh 25/09/2009


Stuff reports on a new vaccine that has been shown to provide some protection against AIDS. The vaccine was shown to reduce the incidence of contracting the disease by 31%. All other vaccines against AIDS have been abject failures.  While this is indeed great news, the MacDoctor cautions against breaking out the champaign.

  • 31% is by no means an adequate enough response to use in a vaccination program. At that rate the side effects may outweigh the benefit (remember, only a very small percentage of people in a mass vaccination program would have contracted AIDS anyway). In addition, the cost of such a campaign is very likely to far exceed the benefit.
  • The conductors of the trial have no idea how they managed to get an immunological response. This means a vaccine is still many years, perhaps a decade away.
  • It is not known how long the immunological effect will last.
  • The vaccine has only been demonstrated to have an effect on the Thai strain of the disease. The vaccine contains elements of the US strain and the Thai strain, but nothing of the African strain which 67% of AIDS sufferers have. It is very likely that the vaccine will be ineffective against this strain.

Still, this is not only the first trial to actually show an effect, it is also the first trial to use large numbers of a relatively low-risk population (most trials have been on high-risk populations). This makes the result much more significant as it hints that a vaccine could be developed for mass immunisation purposes. This provides real hope that the disease could even be eradicated at some stage.

This vaccine is no magic bullet in the fight against AIDS, but it provides the glimmer of a hope that there might be one, somewhere…